Donald Trump's detractors don't need another reason to dislike him, but the president-elect has just handed them perhaps the most egregious one of all.
"We're going to start saying 'Merry Christmas' again, Trump promised a cheering crowd in Grand Rapids, Mich., Dec. 9 from behind a podium that bore a "Merry Christmas" sign and was flanked by what might previously have been described as holiday trees.
The New York Times may believe the so-called "War on Christmas" is as mythical as Santa Claus — it said so just this week — but Trump and residents of Knightstown, Ind., which recently removed the cross from atop its tree in response to an ACLU lawsuit, beg to disagree.
How did an event dedicated to peace on Earth that has been a federal holiday since 1885 become controversial? Ask a shrink. But whatever the cause, the divide is real, multifaceted and reflects why Trump's embrace of the fight pleased his supporters and further antagonized his detractors.
According to a recent Public Religion Research Institute poll, 47 percent of Americans believe it's appropriate for stores and businesses to wish customers "Merry Christmas," while 46 percent prefer generic greetings such as "happy holidays" out of respect for people of different faiths or none at all.
Among Republicans, however, 67 percent support "Merry Christmas" while 66 percent of Democrats prefer something else. The divide is reflected by age as well, with 67 percent of young adults preferring something like "season's greetings" while 54 percent of seniors want to here a cheery "Merry Christmas."
As a Republican, Trump has been able to benefit from (or exploit if you prefer) conservatives' respect for American culture and tradition by refusing to be politically correct. On occasion, that has caused some to see him as ignorant or even cruel, but his recognition that something is up with Christmas was accurate, welcome and necessary — if expressed in a typically overbearing way.
"How about all those department stores?" Trump asked the Michigan crowd. "They have bells and they have red walls and they have snow, but they don't have 'Merry Christmas.' I think they're going to start putting up 'Merry Christmas.' " Whether that was a threat or merely a prediction he did not say; hopefully he's not planning to smack a tariff on retailers that refuse to comply.
But he's right about some stores' cynical attempt to profit from Christmas while avoiding the word. A trip to Glenbrook Square Friday revealed all the usual trappings associated with Christmas: red and green everywhere in the form of garland, wreathes, "Happy Holiday" banners and holiday and "end of the season" sale posters (what that season might be the posters did not say). A few references to Christmas are visible, but in general you've got to search them out.
In addition, quasi-religious Christmas words such as "Joy" and "Cheer" are used to evoke the holiday from a safe distance. I would have added the nondescript "believe" sign above the cosmetic counter at Macy's to the list until an employee pointed out it refers to the Believe campaign through which the company donates $1 to Make-A-Wish for every letter to Santa dropped at a Macy's store.
"We've given more than $15 million to Make-A-Wish," she said, adding: "I always say 'Merry Christmas.' "
Whether she is a Republican I do not know, but I do know Macy's made the American Family Association's list of "nice" stores willing to use the term "Christmas" on a regular basis. On the other hand, the AFA considers Victoria's Secret a "naughty" company for its alleged avoidance of the dreaded C-word. But its Glenbrook store has Christmas in at least two of its ads, including one featuring two very attractive young women and a caption stating "We know what you want for Christmas!
"All bras $35."
Who doesn't want a little lingerie with their gold, frankincense and myrrh?
Why does any of this matter? Because culture matters. Just ask the folks at Forward.com, who were apparently serious when they asked "Should Jews be worried?" by Trump's statement, as if "Merry Christmas" were a threat instead of a blessing.
America is indeed an increasingly diverse nation and, by all means, we should all be sensitive to one another's feelings. But sensitivity does not require Americans to hide or change who they are to placate the lowest common denominator. Europe, as we saw this week in the form of an Islamic terrorist's attack on a Christmas market, has tried that with disastrous results.
So Merry Christmas to you, and please pass it on. It is, after all, a very American thing to do.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 461-8355.